An Army major and his wife, accused of abusing their three foster children, were free to return to their Mount Holly home Thursday after a judge said they could be released on unsecured bail of $250,000 each.

John E. Jackson, 37, and his wife, Carolyn, 35, appeared in federal court Thursday in Newark, N.J., wearing prison clothes and shackles. They were ordered to have no contact with the children upon their release.

The couple will remain under house arrest, and will each wear a GPS tracking device. They can leave home for work, medical appointments, and religious services.

Prosecutors allege the couple abused the children for five years, until 2010. One child fell ill from consuming high levels of sodium and needed medical attention, according to court records. The illness raised concerns of medical workers.

Two foster children and three biological children were placed in foster care at that time. A third foster child died in 2008, but the death had not been ruled the result of abuse or neglect, officials said.

Prosecutors say the couple forced the foster children to eat hot sauce and pepper flakes as a form of discipline. The couple is also accused of withholding water, food, and medical treatment. At times, according to court records, the children had been beaten so badly that two of the children suffered broken bones.

The couple instructed their biological children not to report abuse because it was necessary to train the foster children, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday. One of the biological children was punished for sneaking food to a foster sibling and then told to make sure the children did not drink from the sinks or toilets, officials allege.

In online postings created since 2010, the couple is described as devout Christians, passionate about their family. They have been quoted in published reports saying they are victims of overzealous investigators attacking their conservative beliefs.

Authorities said the couple had not been immediately charged in 2010 because it took investigators several years to gather evidence.

Federal investigators took the case because much of the alleged abuse happened when John Jackson was stationed at the Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County.

The two were indicted on 17 counts including endangerment, assault, and conspiracy.

Although the parents had been permitted visitation with two of their biological children, that was terminated as a condition of bail.

Contact Barbara Boyer at 856-779-3838, bboyer@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @BBBoyer.